Dec. 30, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We’ll now open it up for questions for Coach Urban Meyer and Coach Dabo Swinney.
Q. Urban, how much have you talked to your team about the 2014 example? And what effect do you think that might have?
COACH MEYER: I’ve talked to them quite a bit. It was a great template to use as far as a young team getting as much game experience as possible, getting ready for the playoff run. So we did use it quite often.
The other thing that happened during that run, in which Dabo has a saying, every team that wins a championship there’s going to be a handful of players that are maybe not well known that are going to become very well known. We happen to have a tailback that’s doing okay, too, that during that three-game run, Zeke Elliott, you had Stevie Miller and Curtis Grant, they’re kind of legends at Ohio State because of their performance in these games. So I use it more in that because that’s real.
Q. Urban, what were your takeaways from working at Notre Dame both for Coach Holtz and Bob Davie?
COACH MEYER: I saw Coach Davie yesterday. I still, when I see him, how happy he is. And he’s, in my regard, one of the great coaches in college football, and took over a very tough situation.
The parallels between the two, they’re both excellent coaches, but they’re both very different in their approach about their business. Very good friends of both and appreciate what they did for myself and my family, because Lou Holtz hired me and then Bob Davie retained us at Notre Dame. And we had I think five or six great years there.
Q. In your previous playoff appearances you each played in the early semifinal. I’m wondering tomorrow what you guys will do in terms of looking at that first game, whether you’re going to play it on the bus for the players, or you’ll just have some staffers watching it? What about that first game do you expect to see at all in real time?
COACH SWINNEY: No, there’s no time. Our days are incredibly structured on game day, all the way until we literally get on the bus. We’ll have a little walk through about 20 minutes before we get on the bus.
And if you see any of it, it’s just briefly when you’re back in your room for a minute or two getting ready to go. But, no, we certainly don’t play it on the bus. We’ll be locked in on what we’re trying to do and that’s it.
COACH MEYER: I wasn’t sure there was a playoff game before ours.
Q. (Indiscernible)? What are the core values that we instill into your staff?
COACH MEYER: Pretty deep question, will take a while to talk on that. I’ll just speak on behalf of our team, is that I always want to have a team that’s not worried about making mistakes. We call it 4 to 6, A to B. That’s the length of a play. And I’ve never been a part of a game that the team didn’t play the hardest didn’t win.
The second one is the power to the unit. And that is we have nine units. If we can perform when talent is equated or sometimes better than yours, you have to perform with every unit playing at a high, high level.
And the last one is competitive excellence. And that’s just the reason we practice so hard is because when your number’s called you’ve got to make that play, and it’s not because of the lucky T-shirt or good fortune. It’s because of practice. So that’s it in a nutshell.
COACH SWINNEY: You mean the game day underwear, that’s not the key ingredient?
COACH MEYER: I’m not saying I don’t wear them. That has nothing —
COACH SWINNEY: I thought it was the lucky underwear. No, yeah, and I read that in your book, by the way. Awesome. 4 to 6, A to B. Nine units. I’m getting it.
The guys have won a million games for a reason. I’m no dummy. For us we just keep it simple. We make it the same as far as — I think you have to. We all know the magnitude of the moment and the game, but I think Coach would agree, you have to prepare for every opponent and respect every opponent, but you have to have a formula of preparation, a formula of excellence is what we call it. And for us it’s preparing with purpose every day.
Because when you do that, then you have a sense of urgency which brings about attention to details. And then from a football standpoint, it’s not just great effort. It’s great effort with an emphasis on technique.
You can run around and give great effort, but if your technique stinks you’re not going to have good execution.
Then it’s all in commitment to do the best you can do. That’s all you can do is be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and know that you control what you controlled and you did the very best you can do.
And that’s really what we focus on regardless of who we play. We all know when you play teams like Ohio State, the margin for error gets really small because they have great players and great coaches, and you just don’t have a lot of room for error.
So the formula is still the same. It’s prepare with purpose, every day. Because you’re competing in everything. Your meetings, your sleep, how you think, everything.
And then it’s a game of effort, but it’s technique, it’s how you do your job, and then it’s just being fully committed to being the best that you can be, doing your best each and every day, each and every play.
Q. Dabo, what is it about Deshaun Watson beyond the stats and what we see that makes him a special player?
COACH SWINNEY: I think you see, obviously, his skill set. I would think that you would see his poise. And to me his poise really makes him incredibly unique, because he just — he just never changes.
But it’s who he is as a young man that you don’t really know until you’re around him. Most people just see a great player. He handles himself the right way and all that.
But who is he really when you pull the curtain back and you’re around him, where nobody’s looking? And that’s what makes him special; it’s who he is when nobody’s watching.
Just really a great human being that just happens to be a good football player. And that’s what I love about him.
Q. Urban, you talked about values and being strong, things like this. That’s what you need going into this game. What is your sense right now of, I don’t know, of confidence that that’s going to happen? And number two, do you ever feel, you’re 61-5 at Ohio State, do you ever feel confident totally going into a game like this? What are your last-minute thoughts, I guess, as you get into something like this?
COACH MEYER: I think that’s a great question. I think you feel confident when you have better players than your opponent. It’s not rocket science to figure that out.
Obviously when talent becomes equated, that’s that whole nine-strong philosophy that, as Dabo said, the margin for error is going to be very slight. And there’s a fine line between over-preparation where you have them so worried about clusters, about different schematic things that players quit playing as hard as they can.
That’s the fine line we’ve been juggling right now. But you said what’s the confidence factor. Usually pretty confident when we have better players than the opponent. When you don’t, then it’s more the — it’s all about the preparation and making sure they’re playing as hard as they can.
Q. Stanford will play its bowl game today without Christian McCaffrey. You guys have every year a lot of highly regarded NFL prospects. In the unlikely event you ever miss the playoff again are you concerned at all that some of your guys might take that same path?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I have not experienced that before as a coach. But it’s a copycat world, I guess. So it could come, I guess, somewhere down the world.
But I think, again, as I said a couple of times already, I’m not going to sit in judgment of other people. I don’t know their circumstances. I don’t know what led to those decisions and things like that.
Sometimes outside you don’t know what a guy’s doing every week to get himself ready to play. Maybe he’s battling through an injury, things like that. I don’t really know.
But I think all things being even, to me — and that’s why I’m not for an eight-plus team playoff and all that because now you’ve got a lot of people sitting at home, you’ve got a lot of teams. There’s nothing wrong with ending your season on a win.
And I think that’s what makes college football unique. But at the end of the day I think if that’s the case you just shouldn’t play your senior year. If that’s — you can get hurt in any game and to me every game is huge.
And I said the other day, if we don’t beat Troy in September, we’re not sitting here.
Every game is big. And I think it’s about team and always have. And I think that there’s always risks involved when you play this game. And certain players always have insurance policies and things like that. But I think they’re all big. And I think to have an opportunity to go play is huge.
But I think guys have to make their own decisions. And as coaches, at the end of the day I just need 11. That’s it. I need 11 guys on offense and on defense, and we’ll find 11 for special teams that want to play.
If a guy doesn’t want to play, I promise you the guy behind him does, and at the end of the day that’s all as coaches you can control is getting the guys ready to go play and that’s what my focus would be.
I don’t know that we’ll ever deal with that. But if we do it is what it is, you move on.
Q. Coach Meyer, I wonder when you’re with Coach Swinney on these Nike events, do you have a favorite story about when you’ve walked away laughing or something he said or just how entertaining are those times together?
COACH MEYER: Oh, yeah, I’ve got plenty. I’m not going to — I can’t do that. (Laughter) because what stays at — what goes on at Nike stays at Nike. That’s Phil Knight’s mantra. I want to go back to the Nike trip.
Q. Urban, 10 years ago you were out here with a Florida team winning that first National Championship. Does it really seem like 10 years ago, or is it a blur?
COACH MEYER: It does not — I remember that we had to do a video of something because it’s a reunion for that great team. And I’ll be honest, I forgot it was out here. It’s a time warp. That was a great moment.
That was the first one, and I still, to this day remember, everybody on the sideline celebrating screaming it’s not over yet. And it was pretty much over. And then we ran a bubble screen with about a minute and a half left to Percy Harvin, and he nudged the ball past the first down marker, and I thought, even us, we can’t screw this up now. The knees started shaking and it was a special moment, though.
And I think the great John Madden said it best is that — I’m sorry, Bill Parcells said it, that once a team wins a championship of that magnitude it’s like a blood transfer. You’re forever brothers. And that’s the case. Because we’re still very close.
Q. Coach Swinney, what do you remember back in 2013 when you had Raekwon and Jalyn at your camp, and they told us earlier this week it was at that camp they started talking and deciding between Clemson and Ohio State and ultimately settled on the Buckeyes, what do you remember about them?
COACH SWINNEY: Great young men, first of all. And the reason everybody was recruiting them was because they were phenomenally talented young players. But just good young men, good families. I enjoyed recruiting those guys and have enjoyed watching them. Believe it or not, I’ve never really recruited against Ohio State until Coach Meyer went there.
And once he went up there and I think he brought some of his ties and recruiting experience from being at Florida. And it seems like now there’s a lot of guys we end up recruiting. Ohio State is kind of always in the mix.
And I think that ultimately that’s why we both have been successful, we’ve got good staffs but we’ve had good young people, good players. He’s done a great job of identifying guys and building a culture at Ohio State, and we’ve tried to do the same. And that’s why we’ve got on some of the same type of people, because they’re really good players, but I mean you get around Raekwon, he’s a great young man. And it’s great to have those guys because you can win and win the right way with them.
Q. What goes through your mind when you hear people say you’ve got it going, you guys have it on cruise control? Dabo, you’ve rebuilt Clemson. Urban, you’re 61-5 at Ohio State. In the context of getting back here, how hard is it to get back and win this whole thing?
COACH MEYER: Well, I can just speak on my personal journey that in ’06 I kind of was mistaken. I remember in the locker room after the game saying now it’s time to coach for fun; we did it. That might be the furthest from the truth, because the journey and to build is exhilarating and enthusiastic and energizing, and the maintenance part, I said it the other day, I’m more cautious than ever to make sure that it doesn’t become that grind and it does.
To say it’s not real — Dabo is going to experience that the more success that he’s built this monster that he has to continue to feed and the same thing that, I was here — Mack Brown did a great article the other day about that. Mack Brown is a dear friend of both of ours, and I’ve had many, many conversations with him about you create this monster that people are upset when you go to the Sugar Bowl. What are you talking about? Damn, you went 12-1.
So I learned a lesson. I made a promise to myself and more importantly our players I will not let that happen to the best of our ability. I don’t care who shows up at the bowl game we’re going to try to make it enjoyable for our players.
COACH SWINNEY: Same here. I think that obviously we had a little further to go eight years ago when we kind of started out on our journey. But I’ve just appreciated every step of the way. And all of the teams that we’ve had, all the young men, we have a great foundation in place.
And I think it all goes to us. We just try to stay focused on our core values. And I’m constantly reminding our fan base to enjoy the journey. I know there’s an expectation, but I really want to focus more on having an appreciation of our young players and what they do and how hard they work.
So we try to stay focused on that. We try to serve our players’ hearts, not their talents. I think if we keep that focus, then we’ll continue to be about the right things.
I don’t want to ever — I personally, winning is not our number one goal. It’s just not. We want to win, but it’s how we win, it’s how we’re graduating our players, it’s how we’re changing and impacting their lives, preparing them for what’s next. Are they having a great experience? Are they excited to come back to Clemson? Do they have great relationships? It’s a relationship-driven program. And that’s what we focus on and making sure that we have fun.
I don’t want to ever become a team or a program that when we win it’s just a relief. I want to always have an appreciation for how hard it is to win. And understand that sometimes you lose.
And that’s okay. It’s did we bust our butt? And you’re always growing. You’re dealing with young people and the roster changes every year and you always start over. And I think as coaches sometimes when you talk about get on cruise control, if you had a lot of success you just kind of assume certain things.
But you can’t do that. You have to — to me you start over every year and you reinstall your core values of who you are as a program and why. And maybe those seniors have heard it three times, but you know what? They didn’t get it all as a freshman, sophomore, junior, but by the time they’re leaving as a senior they’re telling the same stories and 15 years later they’re repeating those stories.
Well, now they got it. So I think you just gotta stay committed. And for us it’s making sure that we stay focused on the right things.
Q. Dabo, kind of building off the last question: Coach Meyer was describing what he felt like when he won a National Championship. It’s pretty much the only thing that Clemson hasn’t done that that all these other great programs have done. I’m wondering, when he’s describing his feeling after having won a National Championship, what your thoughts were (indiscernible)?
COACH SWINNEY: I can visualize that. I’ve been there. He’s exactly right. I’ve had several — I had some teammates this week come out to practice that I played with at Alabama. And I know what it’s like to reach that moment. And he’s right. You’re brothers for life.
When you do something like that together you never forget that. Ever. And we had a reunion back in May. And I mean it’s been 20-plus years. But it was just like yesterday. I mean, immediately you see these guys, some of them you haven’t seen in 10, 15 years, and it’s like you were sitting back at Bryant Hall with them yesterday.
And that’s what an accomplishment like that does. It is a bonding experience. It’s an unbelievable pinnacle. And you know, for me, a lot of times people ask me: What’s one of my greatest memories as a player and stuff? And I think a lot of people expect me to say maybe it was some play or the National Championship game itself or whatever. And that was great.
But that’s really all fleeting. It’s really the journey to get there. It’s the grind. It’s the work that you put into it. It’s the overcoming of adversity. But it’s the moment in that locker room when you’re with a group of people that have gotten it done and laid it on the line. And there’s just nothing like it. You just can’t describe it.
And if you could bottle that up and take that out into the world, then you dominate. Because it’s a special bond and love. And it’s awesome to be a part of.
So I can definitely see it and visualize that and hopefully we’ll have our opportunity to hold the trophy up one of these days. We’re going to keep getting in the batter’s box and keep swinging, and hopefully one of these days we’ll get it done.
And we’ve got a chance this year. But they don’t give those things away, man. You’ve got to go earn it and play well and you’ve got to beat the best. And that’s what we’re playing, the best of the best.